Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A Case for FDI in Retail

Just before the 2004 elections, the BJP manifesto had clearly stated that, if elected, they would support FDI in multi brand retail. On the other hand, the Congress was against it. Over the past decade, the stand of these parties has reversed. Over this period so many retailers have been forced to shut shop because of their inability to raise money. I founded Guardian pharmacy in August 2003 after spending 25 years in the corporate sector with a vision that I would build “Boots” in India. In a market fraught with fake medicines and poor retailing practices I had set out to make a paradigm change in the manner in which medicines were sold in India. Most chemist shops in India are small, dusty, counter stores and the customer has to stand outside the shop at the counter in summer and winter. The stores selling medicines to cure the patients were completely unhygienic in their practices. Standing outside several chemist shops and observing a customers buying behaviour gave me far more insight than I could have could through extensive research. By way of example I observed the following steps when a customer walked up to a chemist shop to buy medicines: 1. The customer would walk up to the counter of a chemist shop and ask for a bottle of cough syrup. 2. The chemist would rummage through dusty store shelves and pull out a dusty bottle. 3. The chemist would then reach for a dirty rag from underneath the counter and he would clean the bottle of cough syrup with this rag. 4. Once the bottle had been cleaned, he would take a paper bag made out of old newspapers or a plastic bag from a shelf below the counter. 5. He would then either “blow” into the paper bag to open it or wet his thumb and index finger with his spit and then open the top of the plastic bag. 6. The bottle of cough syrup would then be put into its packaging and handed over to the customer. 7. If the customer asked for an invoice, it would be issued manually. If no invoice was asked for, it would not be given. 8. There would be no checking of the expiry date, the batch number and the maximum retail price printed on the bottle. Every stage of this purchase process was unhygienic and lacked transparency. Cleaning a bottle with a dirty rag or blowing into a paper bag or putting spit on a plastic bag was unacceptable when selling medicines and yet the Indian customer did not seem to care. Not taking a bill for a purchase ensured that if there was a problem with the medicine, there was no way to establish that the medicine had been purchased from that particular chemist. This is what I wanted to change to bring in best practices into a completely disorganised retailing business. The Drugs and Cosmetics Act is an old and archaic law that needs change and the country needs many more drug inspectors. 1. We started making changes by improving the look and feel, the ambience of the store. By air conditioning a store, we ensured that there was temperature control for medicines, an essential requirement in our country. 2. We hired and trained pharmacists across the country. We changed the employment conditions for these pharmacists who were earning below minimum wage in several of the local chemist shops. Today we have a large team of well-trained pharmacists who not only earn much higher salaries but are also earning incentives based on their performance. 3. We worked hard with the Government to try and get them to allow pharmacists from one state to work in another state. We failed. Surprisingly, this is still not permitted. So a pharmacist from Gurgaon cannot work in Delhi! 4. We have ensured that no cash sales were mad at any store and no medicines were sold without prescriptions. We insisted that all customers take bills for their protection to hold us accountable. 5. We invested heavily in front end and back end systems, store renovation, modern and well equipped warehouses and stock audits. 6. We guaranteed our customers 100% reliable medicines and worked with distributors to ensure the right quality medicines were sold at our stores. 7. We started bar coding medicines in an industry which continues to defy the need for bar codes because it makes stock identification easier. 8. We brought in a system into offering discounts for our senior citizens and took away the arbitrary system of offering a discount based on the “pleasure” of the shop keeper. And we are continuing to do so many more things in our retail segment selling health, wellness and beauty products. Yet when it comes to expanding our operations, we are told the foreign direct investment in retail is banned. What is the difference between an Indian retailer with unlimited funds from other businesses and a foreign retailer? The case against FDI stands on the flimsy logic that foreign chains will take away the business of domestic “mom and pop” retailers. Are the Indian conglomerates that have huge retail operations any different or have they given guarantees to protect small retailers? How then can Indian chains built by professional managers turned entrepreneurs like ours survive, thrive and grow? This Government recognises the value creation FDI can do in our country. So many hitherto protected sectors have been opened up for FDI. What makes retail deserve such protection from the Government? It is important for the Government to take a dispassionate look at FDI in multi brand retail and look at what is good for the Indian consumer. Ashutosh Garg 8th December 2014 The author is the Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of the bestselling books, The Buck Stops Here and The Corner Office. Twitter: @gargashutosh

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Sorry Amitav Ghosh, you've got it all wrong

This article is a rebuttal to the diatribe by Amitav Ghosh in The Times of India on 30th November 2014. In the said piece, Ghosh, who is a celebrity author in the mainstream media, had vented his spite on the decisive electoral victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and tried to whip up apprehensions by comparing India’s Prime Minister to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose policies are a cause of disquiet. We publish a strong, effective and factual rebuttal to Amitav Ghosh’s flight of fancy. It has been 6 months since the Modi Sarkar assumed office on the promise of “achhe din” and it has been 6 months since the so called “intelligentsia” of our country has been looking for a reason to find fault hoping that the new Government would stumble and they would promptly start the “I told you so game”. The Congress party and some of the other political parties are making up baseless allegations every day. The angry young man of the Congress moves from one rally to another shouting at the top of his voice hoping that the few people in the crowds who come for his rallies understand his logic of “escape velocity”. So many people are actually waiting eagerly for one false step and virtually everyone from journalists to politicians to the educated elite has become an expert on every aspect of governing this vast country. Unfortunately for such disbelievers, this Government is working with a clear direction and a strong leadership supported by a clear majority in Parliament. I do not wish expound on all the good work the Government has already been done – that is for everyone to see and judge, both in the short term and the long term. The victory of the BJP in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls has left most political pundits gasping – partially because India now has a stable coalition free government and partially because these very pundits see their own roles being reduced to redundancy – there is nothing factual that they can pontificate on and therefore much of their pontification is based on what they would like to believe and what they would like us to believe. Almost everything that the Government or the Prime Minister has done or is doing is blamed on the sinister hand of the RSS. I have heard the comment “RSS type” from so many friends that I had to ask someone the other day what is the meaning of “RSS type”. Most people who have known me for a while know that I have been a member of the RSS for several decades. However, more recently, when I told some new friends that I am a member of the RSS the first reaction they had was “Oh then where is your khaki shorts, black cap and your lathi”? Someone even asked me if I had now become a fascist! I am amazed at how little and how shallow the understanding is so many of the English educated Indians about the largest, most well organised, disciplined and dedicated organisation in a nation that is 80% Hindu. How can we be so myopic in our understanding and how can we, who claim to be the English educated elite with a global perspective, be so parochial when it comes to the RSS? Whenever I have offered to chat with the so called “disbelievers” most of them have backed off and are not willing to even get into an intelligent and informed dialogue. The opinions that they have formed over the years based on what little they have heard and read, without any personal experience is a cover that they prefer to retain because in ignorance lies their security. As I read the incredibly ridiculous comparison that Amitav Ghosh, an author who I respect for his writings, made between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in the Sunday Times on 30th Nov 2014, I was appalled at the comparison he has made and shocked at the almost unwritten prayer from the author that there will be demonstrations and unrest in India in the near future. I am therefore constrained to write this piece to rebut his arguments and sincerely hope that one of the mainline newspapers will publish this as another view point. Mr Ghosh is obviously a Modi / BJP / RSS baiter - that he chose to select a leader who has faced a revolution in June 2013 did not come as a surprise to me. I almost expected him to compare Taksim square to Godhra – fortunately he did not. I was in Istanbul for three days during the revolution, staying at the Hyatt overlooking the famous Taksim square. I walked through the park several times in the day and night and spoke with many of the “revolutionaries”. In the carnival like atmosphere prevalent in the park, most of the young people were not sure why they were there and a lot of the young people on whom this so called revolution depended were there for the fun of it. In his essay, which is very well researched and written when it comes to facts about Turkey and India, he compares the development of India and Turkey and the issues both countries have faced through the decades and the similarity therein. I respect his analytics and conclusions between the similarities in the two countries over the past few decades. He forgets during his comparison that the BJP has been in power for a very limited period in the 67 years of independence and for the first time in 2014 with an absolute majority. The historical comparison of the two economies and the multi-cultural and secular credentials of both economies is where the similarity ends. To compare the two leaders because of their background, one selling lemonade and pastry and the other selling tea is silly. So many world leaders, including the new President of Indonesia, to name another major country, have had very humble beginnings. The two leaders are poles apart in everything unless of course one is determined to fit a square peg in a round hole – Mr Modi has just assumed the mantle of power while Mr Erdogan has been there for over a decade. Now to address some of the specific points raised by Mr Ghosh as he looks at his crystal ball and announces the future of our country in his article: 1. The “downdraft” which according to him Mr Modi faces is actually a “tsunami” of positive energy and hope that the people of this country have in the BJP and Mr Modi’s leadership. This is why the BJP is being voted back into power with record numbers not just in the Lok Sabha elections but also in the state elections. 2. The “old strategies of growth” which he refers to have already been used by up the Congress government in the past decade. The malls have been built and the real estate bubble has been fully exploited by a chosen few led by the Congress son-in-law. What India looks forward to under the new Government is balanced all inclusive growth with a strong focus on manufacturing, tourism and infrastructure development. 3. Sale of rivers, privatisation of natural resources and silencing environmentalists is surely a figment of his imagination. When has a strong cadre based party with its beliefs firmly rooted in democracy ever been able to sell off natural assets of the country? On the contrary, it is the Congress which sold off the country’s natural resources of coal and airwaves and it is the BJP which is bringing back some degree of sanity to the coal and telecom licences. 4. “Revelations of corruption” in the Modi government will happen but these revelations will be matters of corruption of the previous government at the centre and the state. However this is not what I think Mr Ghosh is talking about. Peering into his crystal ball, he is referring to corruption that is expected to be revealed in the Modi government. He is obviously not aware or maybe not convinced about the hard line the Prime Minister has taken against corruption and that most of the “fixers” who had been nurtured and prospered under the Congress regime now don’t come within a mile of North block. 5. Is his comment about suppression of grass roots opposition and people “pushing back” a hope to see the country that he claims to love in turmoil? This has never happened in our country and this will not happen in the past. On the contrary, suppression of the opposition has happened under the Congress. 6. “When protests break out in India, as they surely will” says Mr Ghosh as he gazes deeply into his crystal ball and sees Government excesses, a subdued population, a broken economy and a leader who is abhorred by the masses, I can only respond by saying that his crystal ball is jaded and foggy and needs to be sent for some one time repairs, as quickly as possible. 7. The organisations that brought Modi to power share a similar set of values when it comes to the nation. The leader of the RSS has recently spoken about “our Abhimanyu” who has the ability to break the chakravyuh and take the nation to a new high. Something that has never happened before. 8. While the world, according to Mr Ghosh, is entering a period of volatility, I along with millions of Indians who stand by the government believe that India stands as a beacon of hope for the masses as it enters a phase of stability and rapid growth. The period of extreme volatility, crises and firefighting is coming to an end after the uncertainty of UPA II. 9. Most people who had questioned Mr Modi’s competence in foreign affairs have either been pleasantly surprised or simply shocked at the ease with which he has slipped into the role of a consummate diplomat and a world leader with enviable acceptance across the world in such a short period of time. Finally, what Mr Ghosh chooses to forget is that India is a very vibrant democracy which has always worked barring an aberration in 1974 during the emergency, and oh yes, in case he omits the fact, this emergency had nothing to do with the BJP or any of the predecessors of Narendra Modi. Even an all-powerful Indira Gandhi (who may have been a better subject for comparison with Erdogan) was voted out of power after the emergency and then voted back a few years later when the voters realised that she was the better of the options available to lead our country. But then, to borrow from Shakespeare, Amitav Ghosh is an honourable (and famous) man and such could be the power of his words that he will be quoted and re-quoted by many people till some will actually start to believe that this fiction of his imagination is actually fact! We have elected the BJP to power and the BJP has elected Mr Modi as their leader. Now let us give him and council of ministers the time to deliver. This is too early for some pundits to start writing the epitaph of the BJP and its leader. Ashutosh Garg 2nd December 2014 The author is the Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of the bestselling books, The Buck Stops Here and The Corner Office. Twitter: @gargashutosh

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A retailer’s life is literally 24 X 7 X 365

A retailer’s life is literally 24 X 7 X 365 It is therefore important to stay fit and healthy and to ensure that you and your family are protected in the unlikely event something goes wrong either in the business or in your health. One decision I took when I started Guardian was that I have to remain fit and healthy. I could not afford to fall sick and therefore I would have to “will” myself into staying healthy. I had started my entrepreneurial journey at a very late age in life and I definitely could not afford to fall sick or do anything that would jeopardise my health. I was betting my career, my family’s future and my entire credibility on this venture and there was no way that I could fall sick and stall my journey before I had achieved what I had set out to do. Manage personal health well Work pressure while building any new business will be very intense and an entrepreneur has very few choices except to stay well and stay fit. He needs to build the stamina to keep going, in the face of all possible adversity. Falling sick is not an option that can be considered. There will be many moments when every entrepreneur wants to throw in the towel simply because the stress becomes unbearable yet unlike any other individual, it is important for an entrepreneur to keep going because the light at the end of the tunnel is the achievement of his dream. No matter how much stress you may carry inside you, it is very important to “appear” absolutely calm from the outside. With a regular exercise regime and reasonable diet control, along with appropriate medication, I have managed to control both my blood pressure and my diabetes levels within acceptable levels. Ensure you follow a daily routine When I started off on my journey, I knew that I was overweight and I also recognised that excess weight was the cause for a number of illnesses. My body, like the bodies of so many obese and overweight people, was not designed to handle so many extra kilos of weight. As the weather in Delhi cooled down in November every year, I would find that my eosinophilia count increase because of the increased pollen grains in the atmosphere which would lead to wheezing and asthma. My inhaler was my constant companion throughout the winter months of Delhi. This was always very debilitating and would invariably make me take forced rest at home for a few days every winter. I knew I had to stop this I started on a strict regimen of exercise, diet. Till today, I take at least five vitamin supplements every day – one tablet each of vitamin C, multi vitamin, fish body oil, glucosamine and co enzyme Q 10. In addition, I am always the first person to experiment with the various vitamins that we have been launching under the Guardian brand name. Lose weight if you know that you need to I knew I had to lose at least 10 kilos. I had never been an “exercise person” or a sports person. However, I willed myself into walking at least six kilometers in one hour at least six days a week. I have now got into a habit of exercising every day and the day I do not work out is terrible since I miss my exercise. What worked for me was when I started cutting down on my food intake combined with regular exercise. It was only through diet control that I managed to lose almost fourteen kilos of weight in about three. My exercise helped my body to stay fit and the cardio vascular exercises helped in controlling my blood pressure. I am not sure if it was the exercise, the weight loss, the vitamins or simply the adrenalin rush from building a new company or a combination of one or more of these that has helped me to stay healthy and fit. What that I do know and see is that over the last seven years, I have not fallen sick for a single day, not even with the common flu. I was mildly asthmatic especially in November each year when the atmosphere was full of pollen grains but I have thrown away my inhaler and my wheezing is a thing of the past. My blood pressure is under control, my cholesterol levels are at an enviable 150 and my blood sugar is marginally high! Don’t let your Mind give up So many battles are won or lost if the mind accepts defeat or gives up too easily. When I chat with entrepreneurs who started and stopped or professionals who gave up the “joys” of a corporate battle for supremacy, I know that they gave up the fight because they had not built the internal resilience in their own minds to stay the course. Like a game of golf where one plays much better golf when one’s mind is at rest, success and failure is also all in one’s mind. I have found that giving up is very easy and several times in my own journey both as a professional as well as an entrepreneur, I have had the temptation to give up and call it a day because all choices seemed to be tough and insurmountable. As I look back at my life, I wonder what kind of a person I would have been had I given up each time my body told me to stop and my mind forced me to carry on. Every entrepreneur must develop mental strength take on tough tasks and select from equally tough choices. Yet the joy of achieving a task that seemed impossible also gives it own high. Don’t lose sight of your personal life As a professional manager, I always encouraged my colleagues to take leave every year. Whenever someone told me that he was working over twelve hours per day on a regular basis, my response to him was simply “If you cannot finish your allotted work in office timings, you are either over worked and need an assistant or very inefficient” Similarly, when someone told me that he had not taken any leave for so many years, my response to such people was “You have not done the company a favour. I would like you to take your leave and come back to work rejuvenated”. I have never refused any manager his leave whenever he has asked for leave. I have often spoken to entrepreneurs who tell me that they don’t have the time to take a vacation and I have never believed any of them. My response to them would be no different from my response to professional managers. I have also followed a practice of not working long hours at work. If a person cannot take time off for himself and give his mind and body a rest, then there is a problem brewing in the long run for such an individual. It is important for every individual to take time off and spend time with one’s family. Build internal resilience and stay calm It is very important for anyone embarking on any journey to build strong internal resilience. A number of times people fail to complete their journey because they give up too early. For me giving up has never been an option. I have believed in leaning into the storm rather than running away from it. Every entrepreneur has to develop a “thick skin” and learn to accept all kinds of comments about himself and his company. Developing the ability to stay calm in the face of adversity is an important quality I learned to develop very early in my working life and this has served me well. The author is the Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of the bestselling books, The Buck Stops Here and The Corner Office. Twitter: @gargashutosh

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Franchising Basics: Everything That Prospective Indian Franchisees Should Know

For most retail businesses, franchising offers an excellent opportunity to grow the brand across a large geographical territory very quickly. Opening up a company’s systems and its heart to an individual who wants to come on board primarily because he senses a financial return on his investment takes an organisation time to understand and digest. It is essential to make sure that a company embarks on franchising only when the organisation and its people are ready to welcome a franchisee into its fold. Benefits of franchising From the perspective of a franchisee, it is important to understand what benefits he can expect and from the perspective of a franchisor, they must understand that they must be able to provide value to any potential franchisee. 1. Consumers buy from brands they trust – Brands are what convey credibility to a consumer and brands outlive any promoter or manager. A strong brand ensures long term profits and an association with a strong and credible franchisor helps to build a long term and sustainable business for an investor. The franchisor must support his brand and the franchisee must assure the brand owner that the brand will be respected and that no steps would ever be taken that will tarnish the image or diminish the value of the brand. 2. Efficient business practices as systems are proven – Strong companies are able to bring strong systems and good business practices into the business of any franchisee. It is important to adhere to these values to ensure that there is no clash of values between the franchisor and the franchisee. 3. Marketing costs are lower through volume – Becoming a member of a large franchise operation helps to defray marketing costs over a large number of business owners. 4. Mentoring the franchisees – The franchisor must put together a senior team that is available to mentor all franchisees through their early stage of taking the franchise. This mentoring is really an extract of all the learnings of the company over a period of time through experience. 5. Reduced risk through proven business model – The franchisor must believe that the learnings of the franchisor can be transferred to a potential franchisee so that his learning curve is not as steep or as expensive as that of the franchisor. 6. Defined territories protect franchisees from competition – Once a franchise territory has been defined, it becomes a valuable piece of “real estate” since there should be no other franchisee in this defined territory. Franchisor Checklist A franchisor must look at what he can to offer to a potential franchisee before agreeing to sign up and give the rights to their brand to any franchisee. 1. Strong Value Proposition – the brand proposed to be franchised must offer a strong, clear and unambiguous value proposition to the potential franchisee. 2. Control Systems – The franchisor must have strong back office and control systems to help a franchisee manage his business as well for the franchisor to manage several franchisees. 3. Buy in from everyone within the company – Getting a buy in from every department and every head of department is essential for the process to work. The franchisor must create a dedicated team of people who will be able to address the issues faced by any franchisee. 4. Business Plan – The franchisor must not prepare or commit to a business plan for any franchisee. All that he should do is to give the assumptions for preparing a business plan and share all the relevant data from their company owned operations in a similar market. The business has to be run by the franchisee and they have to commit to their numbers, not the franchisor. 5. Don’t differentiate from company owned store – Franchisee operations have the same needs as those of a company owned operations and the franchisor cannot afford to differentiate between these. This problem becomes more acute at the field level where issues start between the two formats. Such issues need to be tackled immediately before these become serious problems. From a customer’s perspective, the franchisor must remember that there is no differentiation and if there is a problem in service delivery, the franchisor cannot tell the consumer “The problem occurred because of the franchisee”! Franchisee Checklist Before an individual takes up a franchise of any brand, he must address the following questions to his satisfaction. Once money is committed, then it is very difficult to change one’s mind. 1. Is this the right franchise for you – Every franchisee should ask himself the question whether he has the skills or the training to handle the chosen business. I have met a number of potential franchisees who assume that they simply have to make an investment and then wait for the results. When I tell them that they have to actually run their business and not simply make an investment, they start to think twice. 2. Get professional advice from an accountant, lawyer or other business expert – I always ask a potential franchisee to develop a business plan before they start making the investment. Unless a franchisee understands his own business model, he will never be able to extract the maximum value for his franchise in terms of monthly returns after meeting all his costs. 3. Check out the franchisor – It is the responsibility of the franchisor to give a detailed data pack to every potential franchisee to conduct a detailed due diligence on the company and its directors. This is important so that a person who wants to invest money satisfies himself about the franchisor and people behind the company. 4. Speak with existing franchisees – Potential franchisees must be encouraged to meet and discuss the franchisor experience with other franchisees. Only when they hear a satisfied franchisee speaking will they understand the value they can get for themselves from the brand and organisation they may choose to partner with. 5. What is the exit strategy and what goodwill can be retained? – For every potential franchisee, the franchisor must offer an exit by offering to buy out the franchise at the end of the agreed period. If the franchisee wishes to continue longer, the renewal should be on terms then applicable.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Building a Twitter follower base

Building a Twitter follower base Ashutosh Garg Everyone is talking about building a base of followers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. There is absolutely no doubt in the fact that reaching out directly to a group of followers is the only way to deliver your message quickly, efficiently and without too much wastage. As a new entrant into the world of Twitter, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had built a base of over 280,000 followers in less than 9 months. What did I do to build a twitter base and what were my learnings? Understand the medium well Twitter is an easy yet very complex medium to work with. It is very easy to start tweeting but it is a challenge to keep your message limited to only 140 characters. Once you are able to do this you realise how pithy your communication can become. It took me a while and a lot of reading on the net to understand what I could achieve with this medium. Everyone has a lot to say so how will you get heard in all the noise? Set up your account carefully, select your photograph and the background and establish your own security norms. There are many sites that will help you to understand your followers and unfollowers. It is definitely worth your while to visit some of these sites to understand the twitter analytics that is available for free. Decide on the subject / subjects that you wish to tweet about This is important. If you decide to tweet on any subject, remember that you must have enough to say and say it with confidence and credibility. The subject is not the issue. That is your choice. What you say is important for your large base of twitterati who you hope to have as your followers. Followers will “follow” you but your challenge will be retain your followers. It is very easy to follow you but it is equally easy to unfollow you. I decided to tweet on Startups and on Work life balance on a regular basis. Build a database of what you want to say Once you start to tweet, you will be surprised at how soon you run out of things to say. It would help to create a spreadsheet with what you have to say on your selected subject. Thoughts on what you wish to tweet about will keep coming to you. Keep making a note of your thoughts so that you don’t forget. Once you have your data base ready, tweeting becomes easy and you have a lot to tweet about! Don’t hesitate to tweet something again because your audience may have missed out your tweet in the spate of tweets that he / she maybe following. Avoid using foul language and stay away from controversy. If you don’t like someone else’s treat, “unfollow” the person instead of reacting to the tweets. Tweet frequently It is important for people who read your twitter feed to see you regularly to stay connected. Your followers must feel that they are connected with you. Therefore, based on your trial and error, you will be able to understand the best time that your tweets are read. I found that my tweets are read, retweeted or favourite in the mornings at around 7 am, in the late morning around 12 noon and in the evening around 7 pm. Remember that your tweets are reaching a global audience and time zones need to be factored in. I have also found that it is better to tweet three or four tweets at a time. When you do this, you get a “significant share of page” for a few moments for new followers to notice you and hopefully start following you. When people respond to your tweets, it is a good practice to respond to them. An engaged follower will “favourite” or “retweet” much more frequently, thus spreading your message to a large follower base. I am not suggesting that you thank every follower that you have or question every follower who has “unfollowed” you! Retweet The general unwritten custom in the twitter world is if someone requests you to retweet, you do so without wondering why you should give access to your followers. Of course if you find the content objectionable, you are within your right to block such a follower and retweet anything. There is nothing that could be as exciting as seeing your tweet being retweeted by a large number of your followers. Twillionaire Twillionaire is a term used for people who have one million plus followers. More than 85% of people have less than 1000 followers. Don’t compare the number of your followers with film stars, politicians or cricket stars. They are public personalities and people follow them so that they don’t miss out on any aspects of such high profile lives even though they may not have anything significant to say! Build your base of followers slowly and surely. From a small base you will suddenly see a lot of people following you and your base will grow every day. Happy tweeting. The author is the Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of the bestselling books, The Corner Office and The Buck Stops Here. Twitter: @gargashutosh

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Buck Stops Here

The Buck Stops Here “I want to be my own boss” is a thought that has definitely crossed the minds of most corporate managers at some time in their careers. This thought had often crossed my mind as well. It was in 2003 when I was 46 years old that I took the decision of quitting the corporate world after 25 years and take the plunge into the world of entrepreneurship. I had worked for ITC Ltd for 17 years and then in the world of aerospace for 8 years before I quit. Everyone thought that I had taken leave of my senses when I walked out of a high paying high profile job. I was convinced that I was taking the right step. Yet most people hesitate to take this step for one reason or another. Giving up what one has today, including a regular pay check and the perquisites that come with the job to pursue a “dream” definitely appears to be an intimidating challenge for anyone who is contemplating changing his status quo. Yet for people who have made this change, the realisation is why they took so long to take this step. It is never too late or too early to make a start. Getting over one’s own fears and anxieties is possibly the biggest challenge that you will face. Ensuring support from one’s family helps every entrepreneur to take the plunge faster. If the home front is solidly behind the venture then the entrepreneur can press ahead to tackle the challenges with renewed vogour. Be prepared for a complete lifestyle change. An entrepreneur’s job is a lonely one. Days will blend into nights and weekdays into weekends. No job will be too small or big and what you take for granted as a corporate manager will be a challenge you will have to address personally. Yet, the fruits of your efforts will be visible at the end of each day. Find out what is your calling and stay the course. Once you have made up your mind on what you want to do, take a plunge with 100% commitment. Write out a realistic business plan for yourself. Part time entrepreneurial ventures have never succeeded. Once you have started your journey, you will be confronted with challenges that you would never have imagined. Yet, no challenge will be insurmountable. Many ventures with high potential have failed because their promoter gave up when he was so close to seeing success. Many others have failed because the promoter started out with an outstanding idea but changed course based on a new whim. Funds will be a challenge when you start but will become a commodity when you start to succeed. A family investing its savings into a business is a strong message of confidence for any banker or private equity investor. Manage cash very carefully – costs have a habit of running out of control and revenues lag behind what you may have planned for. As long as you are doing what you had thought you would, you will start to see light at the end of the tunnel, sooner than later. Getting a strong management team and empowering them is essential for success but finding the right talent for a startup will be a challenge. Good managers will not agree to join a startup and a startup entrepreneur will not be able to afford such managers. Therefore, it is necessary to draw upon skills of friends and family and part time managers to start any new enterprise. The promoter is also human and will make a lot of mistakes. This is when a good management team comes in and takes charge. The going will be very tough and challenging for the first few years and very often I did sit back and think whether I had taken the right decision. However, looking back, I don’t think there could be any other path I would have wanted to take. Remember the fruits of all the hard work will be very sweet. If becoming your own boss is your dream, there is no date as good as today to make a beginning. Ashutosh Garg Author – The Buck Stops Here Twitter: @gargashutosh

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Buck Stops Here - The Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur by Ashutosh Garg - Extracts

Everyone has a story to tell. This is mine. Everyone’s life is full of unique experiences. Each one of us has faced joys and sorrows, pain and exhilaration, and has learned lessons in life. Yet, most people I know are shy of sharing their rich experience. I often ask such people what they have learned from their life and why they don’t wish to share their knowledge with others. After all, it is only when we learn to confront our own ‘ghosts’ that we will be able to really look back at our lives with confidence, joy and pride. I have lived my life on my own terms. I have been called a maverick by friends and colleagues and I know that I would not have lived my life any other way. This book is an attempt to share my personal journey from a professional manager to an entrepreneur over the last thirty-one years. Many people live their lives working in one job and retiring from the same organization. Others get a chance to change jobs, but stay within the same space. As the years go by and as our societies and the communities will evolve further, I believe that the world will offer our children an opportunity not just to change jobs but to change their careers and their lives completely. Our children can now dream of working in the corporate sector or the government, then move to pursue their passion as a musician or an actor or an author and later enter politics or contribute to civil society, all in one lifetime. I believe I have been more fortunate than a lot of others to have seen three completely different phases in my life—seventeen years with ITC Limited till I was thirty-eight years old, eight years in the aerospace industry till I was forty-six and the last ten years as a chemist, or in more glorious terms, an entrepreneur. This book is an account of my journey through life as I built Guardian Pharmacy. In order to do justice to my entrepreneurial journey, I thought that it is also very important to share some of the experiences of the first twenty-five years of my life as a corporate manager. It is this strong foundation and varied experience in the corporate sector that helped me set up the base and develop the mindset to pursue my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. I have also written about the various predicaments I have faced throughout my life and how these learnings from them have made me a much stronger person. I started out with a dream to build India’s largest pharmacy chain. It has now evolved into India’s second largest chain of wellness, health and beauty stores with over two hundred stores spread across thirty cities and ten states. We handle over eight million customers every year and have grown at a compounded average annual growth rate of over 40 per cent over the last five years. Over the last few years, I have met hundreds of professional managers who have expressed their desire to start off on their own. Some have told me in no uncertain terms, ‘We are jealous of you since you have managed to break free from the corporate world.’ When I ask them what was stopping them from leaving their jobs to pursue their dream, I heard all kinds of excuses: 1. ‘I have too many financial commitments at the moment.’ 2. ‘I am not used to working on weekends.’ 3. ‘I don’t know what to do, give me a good idea.’ 4. ‘Is this really a good time to start?’ And the mother of all reasons, ‘My family and I have got used to a certain standard of life. I cannot give all this up at this stage.’ My advice to all of them is simple: take the plunge and start your planning process now. There is no day as good as today to make a beginning, if you genuinely believe in your dream. Building a new company is very hard work. The toughest part of building a new company is not coming up with a new idea; it is to stay committed to your dream, make sacrifices and learn from your experiences. If you are not willing to give up on things really important to you or if you are likely to be discouraged because of rejection, it will be very difficult to stick to and implement your idea. As a first-generation entrepreneur, I did not have anyone to guide me on the dos and don’ts of building a business. Since the time I started Guardian, I have stumbled many times, fallen down quite often, but I have had to build the resilience to stand up, dust my clothes, learn from the mistake and start all over again. I learned to fail and I learned to manage failure, though I did not plan failure. Failure is essential for any new entrepreneur to succeed. We cannot let any adversity pull us back. We have to learn from our mistakes and our setbacks, accept the knocks our profit-and-loss account will take and keep moving ahead. Every entrepreneur has to plan for the best but prepare for the worst. I have often heard the phrase, ‘The buck stops here.’ I have also used this phrase innumerable times as a professional chief executive officer (CEO) in a large company, implying that I am the final decision-maker and that the responsibility of all my actions and those of others reporting to me finally ends up on my table. My understanding of this phrase has evolved during my entrepreneurial journey. An entrepreneur is the only person where the proverbial ‘buck’ stops. At the end of each month, he has to have the money to pay employees’ salaries and he has to ensure that there are no delays in doing so. In November 2009, as I concluded my talk at a large conference on entrepreneurship and building a new business, I was surrounded by dozens of young men and women who wanted to exchange business cards with me so that they could set up a separate meeting to discuss their business plans. Some of these young men and women came to my office and I spent half a day with them, talking about my journey as I built Guardian, as well as my transition from the corporate world to an entrepreneur. At this meeting I was asked many questions, some perceptive and some very basic, about building a business. As I answered these queries, I thought it may be a good idea for me to write about my own journey so that I could share my knowledge with a much larger audience. The first edition of this book was released on 10 January 2011 by Mr Omar Abdullah, honourable chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. It went on to become a bestseller. This is a revised edition, which includes several new thoughts and experiences of mine since the first edition was published. Writing this book has been a very therapeutic journey for me. I hope you will enjoy reading this book as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Why I support Modi? - Interesting piece I read - Author Unknown

I have long believed that the greatest problem India faces is that it’s people don’t have a strong sense of pride. There is so much division among people on the lines of class, caste and religion that we neither have an affinity towards our fellow citizens nor for our towns, cities and states, for that matter, not even for our elevators and stairwells where people litter, spit and even pee, with total disregard. Poverty doesn't disturb us. Oppression doesn't bother us. General lawlessness doesn't alarm us. It doesn't enrage us that we have been an independent country for more than 60 years and still we are a third world country. There are more starvation deaths in India than the sub-Saharan region. You can be killed in your own country just because you’re from another part of your own country. We feel privileged if we get electricity everyday and water twice a day for two hours. We don’t even like to smile at each other on the roads.
Whereas nationalism lacks glaringly, we are full of jingoism. We talk big but act small. We are crazy about a stupid game like cricket. We like to imitate rather than innovate or create. What’s the problem? Why do we have outsourcing companies but no big software development companies (just to give a small example). Why do most Indians excel abroad but not here in India? Why don’t heads roll when an entire cryogenic project is sabotaged and the career of a brilliant scientist is ruined? Why do we eagerly kill or die for a temple, a mosque, a church or a gurdwara but not for a hospital, a school or a playground? Legend has it that once in a town when there was a power cut during the telecast of the Ramayana serial the people of the town burned down the electricity board office. The same people never even raised a whimper when there were routine power cuts during the board exams and all the students had to study in darkness.
Everything boils down to we’re not proud of ourselves.
This is the void that Modi seems to fill. He exhorts people to work hard, excel in their respective fields and work for the collective betterment of the country. He doesn't want to create ladders of communalism and casteism to rise. For once there is a political leader who wants people to work for excellence rather than depend on government subsidies and doles. Finally the country has a political leader who has the guts to show the middle finger to the world. I don’t know how much he really means to do, but when I begin to compare, he is the only leader who says things that I really want to hear.
I don’t want to hear the same old secularism versus communalism diatribe not because I don’t want our country to be secular but because yes, without these diatribes our country is already secular (in fact it has remained the most secular country or region throughout millennia), and second, by continuously pandering to minority vote our political parties have developed a mindset that you only need to offer empty promises and raise doomsday scenarios in order to come to power. Development doesn't work. Progress doesn't excite. It’s caste and religion. Minorities are under threat. Dalits are being marginalized and exploited.
I’m not saying minorities shouldn't be protected and the rights of the Dalits shouldn't be protected. But the justice system should work for everybody not just for minorities and Dalits. If our justice system works, if our political system works, if our bureaucracy works, we don’t need affirmative action. We don’t need special status for minorities if development is inclusive and people are punished in a timely manner in case of communal bias.
You cannot constantly blame the majority Hindu community for historical wrongs its forefathers may or may not have committed on certain sections. Historical wrongs were committed against Hindus themselves so then why the Muslims aren't made to feel guilty about them (there, I just became an Islamophobe)? I’m not saying they should be, I’m just saying if the blame game needs to be perpetuated, why not create an equal playing field for every religion and every community?
This is the mentality that Modi opposes, and so do his supporters. These people get angry when they are made to feel apologetic about their majority status, about their festivals, about their rituals, about their gods and goddesses, about their patriotism and nationalism and about their “the nation first” approach. They’re fed up of the pervasive mediocrity in almost every field in the name of inclusion and tolerance. They want excellence. They want to compete with the world and when they talk about competition, they don’t mean competition with Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh or even Taiwan. They mean competition with the USA, with the European Union, with Japan and with China. They want to turn India into a global brand. Just as people respect “Made in Japan” and “Made in Germany”, people should respect “Made in India”. No longer we want to depend on our proverbial “jugaad”.
There is also an underdog feeling. Another thing that makes me support him is the witch-hunt he has been subjected to for such a long time. The greatest number of riots have happened under the Congress rule and its various offshoots. The Gujarat 2002 (well, how can something on Modi be complete without a reference to this particular period?) riots were contained within 2-3 days. There is documented evidence that Modi sought help from both Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh that were both Congress-ruled states at that time, and both the states refused. There is documented evidence many from the BJP itself have been targeting Modi and the Gujarat riots were a part of the scheme. There is documented evidence that even Congress ministers were involved in the riots — the mob that set Ehsan Jafri eblaze also had member from the Congress party.
Modi has been maligned so much, the onslaught has been going on for such a long time, unmitigated, that many have begun to feel, what the heck is going on? No politician, no matter how vile or incompetent he or she has been, has not been targeted so much, both nationally and internationally. It can’t be just “divisiveness” because in the name of religion everything goes in our country. What is it? Communal riots are unacceptable, but they have been happening in India since time immemorial and there have been very few, very few instances of they being contained within a few hours. Recently Yagoendra Yadav of the Aam Aadmi Party said the Muslims will need another country if Modi comes to power. How can he get away with such inflammatory utterances and not Modi? Manmohan Singh said Muslims have the first right to national resources. Sonia Gandhi cried for two terror suspects. After the recent Muzaffar Nagar riots aid was provided selectively to the Muslim community, if at all it was provided. Salman Khurshid in his book wrote that both Sikhs and Hindus deserved the blood bath that took place in the 80s. In a metro like Delhi Kejrichandra says corruption is India’s biggest problem but in front of Muslims he says the biggest problem the country faces is communalism. For Rahul Gandhi, the greatest threat to India are Hindu organizations and not Islamic terrorists, Naxalites and Maoists. Shinde says the RSS runs terror camps. Why aren’t these people communal and divisive, and why Modi is? Why does Modi destroy the “idea of India” but not people like Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Karunanidhi or even the infamous Owaisi brothers? Why aren't the communists taken to task by our intellectuals for totally destroying a progressive state like West Bengal? Why aren't the then chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra demonized for not sending help to Gujarat during the 2002 riots? I’m not even going into the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom carried out by the Congress party. Why aren't there inquiries set up for this dereliction of duty, this galling incompetence? Why does Modi become the all-encompassing evil all “secular” forces need to come together against? There has to be a reason.
The reason is that the beneficiaries of the status quo don’t want it to change. The nexus between politicians, religious leaders, industrialists, scholars, artists and journalists has been working for them for decades. They prefer this deep divide between the haves and have-nots. Mediocrity is the name of the game. You have muscle, money or contacts? Great! You have none. Good.
The best bet for a mediocre person is to curtail people from achieving excellence and this excellence can be from any field. They don’t want people to get educated. They want people to toil for even basic needs such as food, shelter, electricity, security, education, travel and health. They want to keep different peoples of the country perpetually divided because when you unite you can put up a united fight and this can jolt the status quo. One more problem when you unite as that there is a collective dialogue without a conflict and this is dangerous for people thriving on divisive and actually communal philosophies. Through doctored education and propaganda we have been divided into tiny nations, islands in ourselves.
When you need to constantly put massive effort into caring for just basic needs, when do you get time to become socially, culturally and politically aware? When there is nothing to compare, there is no accountability. India is dirty, well, it is because India IS dirty. India is poor, well, with so great a population, poverty IS inevitable. Remember that bureaucrat that said that the Indian benchmark for cleanliness is different from other countries (during the preparation of the Commonwealth Games) when dog shit was found on the bed sheets. With such a big administrative structure, corruption IS bound to happen. For everything there is an excuse.
The current arrangement has been good for many people. You get plum postings without ever working. You get elected simply by pandering to a particular community. Intellectuals promote each other and don’t allow alternative voices to come forward. Remember how Wendy Doniger was repeatedly being called “authoritative” by the same usual suspects? In the name of news channels we have reality shows. In the name of sports we have the colonial hangover of cricket destroying other games in the process.
Modi’s approach is that quality of life is your right, not a privilege. He doesn't want to give you “poori roti”, (a whole piece of bread) he wants to nourish you with healthy food. He wants you to work hard and become self-dependent rather than expecting the government to dole out goodies because of your caste or religion.
When he speaks he knows his facts. Of course sometimes he goes overboard and there is too much of “mitro Gujarat mei maine ye kiya hai aur vo kiya hai” but one, he’s normally talking to the masses so a little bit of rhetoric is needed, and two, he talks about Gujarat because that’s where he has worked.
The best thing I like about him is he has totally changed the narrative of the political discourse whether people like it or not. To the so-called secularists’ dismay, they are the ones who are constantly found to be talking about different castes, identities and religions whereas he talks about Indians. He talks about inclusive growth. He doesn't care whether you are a Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Dalit or OBC. He has a firm grip on how resources should be used for maximum benefit. Just look the way he has cleaned up Narmada. Gujarat is quickly turning into the biggest producer of clean energy. Yes, there are kinks, and there are claims that Guajarat is a state that anyways does better compared to other states, and not being an expert I won’t be able to counter your argument.
He talks about concepts our other clueless politicians and highly biased intellectuals can never even think of even if they are born twice. To a person who really feels for the country, Modi seems to be taking the country forward and the rest of the politicians seem to be taking the country backward.
Will he deliver? Frankly I don’t know, I cannot vouch for him. I’m not a BJP propagandist and I’m certainly not working for Narendra Modi. I support him because, as I have already written above, he says things I want to hear. He has facts on his fingertips. He talks about solutions rather than problems. He is unapologetic about his leanings. He’s not bothered about his international image. He couldn't care less whether you term him secular or communal as long as he gets to do his job. His own party works against him. Despite such a prolonged hounding, he has risen and not disappeared into political oblivion. I mean look at that perpetually scheming Kejrichandra. He’s a total creation of the media as well as political machinations. Without these factors he and his bunch of jokers are nothing. Look at Modi on the other hand. He has borne the most vicious media onslaught. His own party men and women are constantly scheming against him. The entire English speaking intellectual class loathes him. Not a single media channel has done a real documentary on what are the real conditions in Gujarat. Why? Because they've got very little negative to show. Had the conditions being bad, do you really think an award winning documentary wouldn't have been commissioned and telecast in a loop, especially on NDTV?
What about his divisiveness? Doesn't he pose danger to the minorities, especially Muslims? You tell me which party isn't divisive in our country? Which political party truly works for the country and not for self-interest? The Congress party, the darling of the secularists, have milked the cows of communalism, casteism and poverty dry while letting Muslims die and remain backward invariably. DMK and the AIADMK are the epitomes of corruption. They say Karunanidhi’s sons are as bad as Saddam Hussein’s sons, or even worse. Communists have done what they are best at — destroyed multiple states. Laloo and Mulayam run their own fiefdoms and all Nitish Kumar wants to do is become the PM of the country even if we has to explode bombs.
An average Modi supporter is not as fanatical as he or she is made out to be. If that were the case, the Togadias and Singhals would have been mainstream politicians rather than fringe elements. Considering all these, I don’t think Modi poses a threat to Muslims. Besides, I believe that he has bigger goals and he knows that playing communal politics doesn't pay in the long run. He is intelligent. Most of our politicians are corrupt and nearsighted. They cannot see beyond the next elections. Modi on the other hand is farsighted. This, I’m sure, will keep the Muslims of the country safe, even if you think he is a hard-core Hindu nationalist.

Author Unknown